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Asia Minute: Japan’s New Prime Minister Travels in Southeast Asia

Nhac Nguyen/Pool Photo via AP
Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, left, shakes hands with Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc after the exchange of documents at the Government Office in Hanoi Monday, Oct. 19, 2020.

While vacation travel remains slow to non-existent in many parts of the world, diplomatic visits are continuing. And that’s true this week in Asia — where Japan’s new prime minister is on his first overseas trip since taking office just about a month ago.

Yoshihide Suga is in Jakarta today. Indonesia is the second country after Vietnam on his first international trip since becoming Japanese Prime Minister.

The focus on Southeast Asia is intentional, and the themes are familiar — economics and defense, with an understanding that China lingers in the background on both topics.

Vietnam currently chairs the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, while Indonesia is the region’s largest economy and most populous country.

Japan has been in talks with both countries to export military equipment and technology — steps that were banned for decades until a change in Japan’s laws in 2014.

Kyodo News reports that when it comes to Vietnam, that might include radar systems, and possibly patrol planes.

Vietnam and China have had territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Though, the Japanese Prime Minister struck a diplomatic tone — calling for “all countries concerned” to “work toward peaceful resolution based on international law.”

Japan’s government is also concerned about broadening corporate supply chains beyond China. It’s offering subsidies to companies that shift production to Southeast Asia, and of 30 which are receiving them so far, half are planning operations in Vietnam.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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